Thursday, November 29, 2007

Disney Day 7: Departure

We were up bright and early today to catch Disney's Magical Express from our resort to the airport. Our resort's bell service never showed up as scheduled to pick up our bags from our room, so in a last-minute rush, the girls and I struggled to get all our (heavy) bags across the grounds of the resort to the airport check-in area of the lobby in time to make the bus. As it turned out, we needn't have panicked; the check-in in the lobby took longer than expected due to malfunctioning machinery (to print our boarding passes), so we ended up catching a slightly later-leaving bus. From one bench Abigail and Hillary kept a keen lookout for the bus while Suzanna and I got some final glimpses of the resort before departing. We ended up getting to the airport with enough time to get through security and to our gate but not with a lot of time to spare.

The flight from Orlando to Denver was eventful. First, Hillary had an upset stomach and threw up in the restroom; I got to go in and help her clean up. Second, because Hillary was seated on the aisle, one particular flight attendant took notice of her and would smile or tickle or greet her each time he passed by. At one point, he saw Hillary sitting with a far-off look, and he asked if she were bored and, thus, would like to help him. She agreed, and he said, "Better get the camera ready, Dad." I did, and this is what I was able to photograph: Hillary as an honorary flight attendant! First she helped him distribute lemonade to passengers throughout the plane. A little while later, she helped him to collect trash from passengers who had cups and napkins to discard. She got to wear a United Airlines apron, and he made her a name tag with a piece of tape and a marker. Hillary was very honored to be asked to help, and she took her responsibilities seriously.

We had a bit of a layover in Denver, so we had a bite to eat in the airport and then read and relaxed at our gate until we were able to fly to Bismarck. (Well, first Suzanna and I went on a fruitless journey through the airport to find a United agent who could correct an error with the name on her Mileage Plus account. The solution, of course, will require our mailing in documents rather than an actual human being's simply keying in the correction. Harrumph.)

When we landed this evening, the temperature was about 80 degrees colder in ND than what it was in FL this morning! We ran to the vehicle and waited impatiently for it to warm up! By the time we were leaving the Mandan city limits, the van was cozy, the sky was pitch black, and the atmosphere in the vehicle was very sleepy. It was a quiet drive back home.

The girls plan to bring their Disney World paraphernalia to school tomorrow to show their teachers and classmates. They've assembled their travel journals, autograph books, Epcot passports, caps, and lanyards with Disney pins, and they will wear their tie-dye Mickey Mouse T-shirts. They should also be bringing home tomorrow afternoon stacks of makeup work from the days of school they missed while in FL. It's nice to be back home and in our own beds again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Disney Day 6: Magic Kingdom and Epcot

We have taken nearly 1,000 photos at Walt Disney World! Each day I've been ruthlessly culling in order to provide you, Faithful Reader, with only representative photographs, not the whole shebang. For that, you must visit our home (and set aside a few hours for the appointment). We've got a lot of great pictures to share with you that aren't available on the blog. In the meantime, here's a fraction of the nearly 350 photos from today alone! (Click the links to see video clips and other details about each attraction.)

Today we were intent on returning to Magic Kingdom and Epcot to see things that we hadn't gotten to the other days. But first, we needed to use up some of our excess dining plan points, so we started our day with breakfast in Riverside Mill Food Court (the blue building with the water wheel) at our resort. [Like the matching tie-dye shirts? Susan made them. Each has a Mickey Mouse face outlined on the front with the wearer's name inside. Lots of compliments on them today!]

Spy the girls? They have just crossed a bridge over the Sassagoula River and are walking toward the building that houses the lobby, gift shop, and restaurants. To their left is the resort's marina.

Here's the Christmas tree and garland decorating the lobby of our resort.

The train depot (with Mickey flower arrangement) at Magic Kingdom just before the opening show. The park entrances are off to the sides (not visible in the photo).

The park's opening show! The train pulls up to the station with familiar Disney characters singing and dancing and . . . well, watch it for yourself.

Even the Christmas decorations on the street lamps on Main Street, U.S.A. are Mickey-themed!

The red clusters in the background--between the Mobergs and Cinderella Castle--are poinsettias, which have been plentiful in every park.

We took a spin on the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride in Fantasyland. I was alone in the car in front of Abigail and Hillary, so I had a good angle for an action shot! After that, we all rode the Mad Tea Party. Riders use a wheel to control the spinning of each individual car. Hillary and I rode together, and I nearly made myself sick spinning us faster and faster throughout!

We walked through Mickey's Country House in Mickey's Toontown Fair. This is Mickey's (messy) bedroom.

A path leads directly from Mickey's back door to the Judge's Tent, where Mickey was waiting to give us autographs and pose for photographs with us.

We checked out Minnie's Country House, too, and here Abigail poses in a chair in Minnie's sun room. Hillary and Suzanna take their turns below.

The last thing in Mickey's Toontown Fair that we wanted to check out was the Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre Farm, a roller coaster that was fun but extremely brief (the girls: "That's it?") and certainly not as intense as the other roller coasters they have ridden since coming to Disney World. Perhaps we shouldn't have saved the tamest coaster for last . . .

Then it was back to Fantasyland to take in more kid-oriented rides and attractions (that we had bypassed a couple days ago in favor of the older kid- and adult-focused rides, which our kids loved, too). Here's Hillary on Cinderella's Golden Carousel; Suzanna and Abigail appear below.

Also in Fantasyland we rode Snow White's Scary Adventures and Peter Pan's Flight before wrapping up with It's a Small World, the classic boat ride through animatronic displays of peoples and places around the globe. It's a long, leisurely ride, and the song "It's a Small World" plays over and over and over throughout it. As the Disney World Web page on this attraction says, "After it's over, just try to get that tune out of your head."

The girls seemed to have just as much fun on this morning's rides for littler kids as they did on all the wilder, more intense rides the other days. I did, too; it's fun to see things from a child's perspective--and easy to see why even Disney World's tamest rides, with all their detail and imagination, would appeal to kiddos.

Our next stop was Tomorrowland for dinner: burgers at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café, where an animatronic lounge singer alien seated at a galactic version of keyboards entertains diners with a series of space-themed songs that play on a loop throughout the day. Then we went to Stitch's Great Escape! and Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, the latter of which features characters' gently picking on audience members and using audience-submitted jokes (that can be texted via cell phone while waiting in line for the show) in their stand-up comedy routines.

Part of our agenda today was to return to Epcot and finish getting the stamps and signatures needed from each country to complete the girls' passports. Here in Canada, we also saw a CircleVision 360-degree film about Canada. We stood in the middle of a big room completely encircled with movie screens upon which was projected the movie starring Martin Short lauding all that Canada has to offer. It was stunning to see (a 360-degree movie is quite an experience) and funny, too.

Lots of pretty sights here in the United Kingdom--including these posing beauties!

Look whom we discovered in France! It's Aurora, A.K.A. Sleeping Beauty.

While here in France, we saw a movie about the country. It was in a theater with a wrap-around screen, so the effect was impressive and not quite so dizzying as a 360-degree screen (are you listening, Canada?). Hillary took a snooze during the movie. Who can blame her? Nearly fifteen years ago, Susan and I napped through a half-hour presentation in the American Adventure Pavilion in Epcot. We had kept a grueling pace and needed a break, I guess. What better to sleep through than a presentation on stuff we ought to have learned in school anyway?

The ladies strike a North African pose in Morocco.

In Japan, we stopped briefly to watch a street corner demonstration of molding candy into animal shapes (a candy octopus, to be specific).

The cast member who signed the girls' passports in the American Adventure was from Minnesota, so we talked local weather for a while. She also complimented Susan on the passports that she had made, saying she had never seen any like them before and thought they were cute.

We saw a street entertainer in Italy--a juggler who involved the onlookers and had the crowd in stitches. Perhaps the girls could have put on their own street corner show involving mime or improv. They have a knack for posing interpretively whenever I snap a photo of them near a statue. (P.S. The architecture in the Italy pavilion is quite beautiful.)

Welcome to Germany, where the smell of sauerkraut wafting from the restaurants had our mouths watering.

A fun photo from China of a pagoda framed by an ornamented archway.

Here are the ladies posing in Norway. The waterfall behind them is part of the ride Maelstrom; in the opening in the rock, you can just make out the tip of a Viking ship about to narrowly avoid going over the waterfall before being shot backward into the North Sea by mischievous trolls. The buildings in Norway are beautiful, too, including an ornate stave church that reminds me of photos from "the old country" that Norwegian relatives have shared.

The Yucatan jungle pyramid in Mexico.

Once the passports were stamped and signed, we booked it back out of Epcot so that we could make our supper reservation in Magic Kingdom. Here is the bustling Spaceship Earth pavilion.

I wanted to ride the monorail before we left Disney World, so we rode it back and forth between Magic Kingdom and Epcot today. Here we are waiting to board it at Epcot.

The girls got to ride in the monorail cab with the pilot, a special treat for children that Susan had read about and planned for during our visit. The cab can accommodate four "copilots," so Susan joined them, and I rode alone in a regular car for civilians.

We were back in the Magic Kingdom in time for our supper reservation at Tony's Town Square, an Italian restaurant inspired by Lady and the Tramp. Below, observe that Hillary, Abigail, and Suzanna enjoyed their pasta and pizza.

For an appetizer, I had mussels in a garlic butter sauce served with crustini. Susan's appetizer (sorry, no photo) was breaded, deep-fried calamari with olive relish and caper aioli.

Our server brought out a crusty bread loaf with marinara sauce to enjoy before our meals.

My entrée: seafood diavolo--clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, and salmon in a spicy tomato sauce.

Susan's entrée: grilled salmon served with asparagus, black and green olives, grape tomatoes, arugula, pecans, bacon, and basil pesto.

The girls' sundaes for dessert.

My dessert: vanilla gelato.

Susan's dessert: amaretto cheesecake.

Susan knew of two nighttime events in the Magic Kingdom for which we needed to stick around tonight. One was the SpectroMagic Parade, a series of impressively illuminated floats, some with people dressed in costumes that lit up, too! It was fun to see so many familiar Disney characters but especially fun to see all the lights in their many colors and patterns of blinking.

It was fun to see Main Street, U.S.A. lit up at night, too. Here we're taking a moment, en route to the next event, to look up and down the street (and to take a rest, if you're Hillary).

The Magic Kingdom Christmas tree and Cinderella Castle provide a lovely backdrop for a family photo.

Isn't Cinderella Castle lovely illuminated at night?

Lovely ladies.

Um, "lovely" ladies?!

The second nighttime event that we saw was Wishes Nighttime Spectacular, a fireworks show set to music that capitalizes on the beauty of Cinderella Castle rising above the Magic Kingdom. It was quite beautiful.

After the the pyrotechnics display, we made our way out of the park via Main Street, U.S.A. Wisely (from a capitalist perspective), Disney World leaves its shops open after the parks close so that exiting guests can make purchases on their way out. Our girls haven't asked for anything while we've been in Disney World--no begging for Disney-themed trinkets or whining for Disney souvenirs or pleading for us to buy them items from this stand or that store. So Susan and I finally asked them tonight if they could think of something that they'd like to buy to remember Disney World by. They wondered if they could get Mickey Mouse ear hats, so we swung into a store to browse. Beside the mouse ears, they saw brimmed caps that they preferred, so we bought them each one. We also used up our snack credits by buying Mickey Mouse-shaped, chocolate-dipped Rice Krispie bars from a bakery. Later at the gift shop at our resort, we bought them Disney pins to add to the collectible pins on their lanyards. We bought ourselves a set of Christmas tree ornments shaped like balls with spherical Mickey Mouse ears attached.

We're pooped but sad to be leaving Disney World tomorrow. The girls have been excellent tourists, willing and delighted to try everything, and making our long days of traveling and walking quite pleasant with their lack of fussing or complaining. It will be good to get back home, but we're thrilled to have had this family vacation, which turned out absolutely great. THANK YOU, SUSAN, FOR ALL YOUR ADVANCE PLANNING! Everything went so smoothly precisely because of you and the work you did to make reservations and arrangements long before we left ND. WE LOVE YOU!!